New Zealand troops are coming home from Iraq, but the deployment to Afghanistan will continue. 

New Zealand will withdraw from Iraq by the middle of next year, the Government has announced.

There are currently up to 95 Kiwi troops stationed at Camp Taji in Iraq, training local forces as part of the Building Partner Capacity (BPC) mission.

New Zealand’s deployment will be reduced to a maximum of 75 from July this year, and 45 from the start of 2020 before the operation ends in June that year, with the responsibility for training then passing to the local Iraqi forces.

The deployment began in 2015 in response to the rise of Islamic State (IS), with extensions occurring under both the previous National government and the incumbent coalition.

Speaking to media, Ardern said the potential for an IS resurgence had been factored into the withdrawal decision.

“We are taking a wider view to the global environment and the threat that remains, but when it comes to Iraq it’s time to go.”

She defended the time taken to withdraw from Iraq, saying Labour’s opposition to the deployment under the last government had to be balanced against the commitments that had been made both to Iraq and Australian forces involved in the joint mission.

“Our people have done a tremendous job…now it’s about mentoring and training the trainers and, alongside of Australia, exiting and having an exit plan.”

Ardern had spoken to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the Government’s decision and said the news had been received “positively”.

Defence Minister Ron Mark said he and New Zealand First supported the withdrawal, as New Zealand’s mission in Iraq was “nearing an end”.

“The role was to train Iraqi security forces so that they could lead themselves, to train themselves – our people have done a tremendous job…now it’s about mentoring and training the trainers and, alongside of Australia, exiting and having an exit plan.”

Ardern said the wind down would allow the training mission to be completed “with resources being withdrawn as soon as is practical”.

New Zealand would also increase its contribution to the stabilisation fund to rebuild Iraq, putting in $3 million each year for the next three years, up from $2.4m in 2018/19.

There had been no serious consideration given to providing troops for reconstruction efforts on the ground, with Ardern saying other countries were carrying out “very specific roles” which New Zealand could not fill.

‘Refocused’ role in Afghanistan

The Government also announced that its substantially smaller deployment to Afghanistan would be “refocused”. The number of troops on the ground would be reduced from 13 to 11 in March 2020, and would continue until the end of that year.

It is tasked with training Afghan army officers within the country’s national officer academy. 

These troops will now also work to support women peace and security, in conjunction with NATO, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. However this operation will only have three personnel.

Ardern said six personnel will be deployed to the officer academy, two NATO’s Resolute Support Mission headquarters and “potentially up to three” personnel focusing on women peace and security. 

Defence Minister Ron Mark said he was pleased New Zealand’s capability in the area of women, peace and security in combat had been recognised. 

“I’d like to how pleased I am that we will have the opportunity of deploying some of our top tier female officers to Afghanistan to assist with women peace and security,” Mark said. 

“The Government will again consider New Zealand’s contributions to Afghanistan by the end of 2020,” she said.

The Green Party was quick to claim victory for the Government’s announcement. Defence Spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman called the withdrawal a win.

She said talks with Mark had been “constructive”. 

“I’m proud of New Zealand working towards a progressive alternative on defence,” she said. 

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